In recognition of American Independence Day, we present this adapted excerpt — on the important role played by multiracial seaport crowds in the American Revolution, and the counterrevolution that would foreclose their participation in the nation to come — from Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker's The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic.
In October 1765 a mob of sailors wearing blackface and masks, armed with clubs and cutlasses, visited the home of a wealthy Charleston merchant named Henry Laurens. Eighty strong and warm with drink and anger, they had come to protest the Stamp Act, recently passed by Parliament to raise tax revenues in the American colonies. Responding to the rumor that Laurens had stored in his home the stamped paper everyone would be forced to buy in order to conduct the business of daily life, they chanted, "Liberty, Liberty, & Stamp’d Paper," and demanded that he turn it over so that they could destroy it in an act of defiance. Laurens was rattled, as he later explained: they "not only menaced very loudly but now & then handled me pretty uncouthly." Finally convinced that Laurens did not have the paper, the men dispersed across the waterfront, shedding their disguises and straggling into the smoky taverns and bare boarding houses, onto the damp wharves and creaky ships. Their protest had consequences. Parliament, taken aback by colonial resistance, would soon repeal the Stamp Act. And in Charleston, one thing would lead to another, as another mob would meet in January 1766 to cry again for liberty. This time the protesters were African slaves, whose action caused greater fear and "vast trouble throughout the province." Armed patrols stalked the city’s streets for almost two weeks, but the tumult continued. Since Charleston’s harbor was crowded with ships, the seafarers were soon "in motion and commotion again," styling themselves, said a cynical Laurens, the "Protectors of Liberty." South Carolina Governor William Bull would later look back over the events of late 1765 and early 1766 and blame Charleston’s turmoil on "disorderly negroes, and more disorderly sailors."
The workingmen of Europe feel sure that...the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy. — Karl Marx and the First International Workingmen’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, 1864
Today marks two hundred and thirty eight years on from the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson and others. It was Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense, published in The Rights of Man and Common Sense, which inspired people in the Thirteen Colonies to declare and fight for independence from Great Britain in the summer of 1776. In clear, simple language it explained the advantages of and the need for immediate independence. The passionate cry for independence continues to this day, with the recent call for a Scottish independence.
Soccer vs. the State — Gabriel Kuhn (PM Press)
A political perspective on the world’s most popular sport. Ex semi-professional footballer Gabriel Kuhn explores both the criticisms of soccer as a vehicle for right-wing agendas and its potential for radical activists providing an enlightening take on our notions about sport in general.
AAP 030 Anarchist Football (Soccer) Manual — AAP Collective (AAP Collective)
Published by Alpine Anarchist productions (AAP), Kuhn’s own publishing enterprise, this handbook explores the history of football from a uniquely radical angle. Arguing that the game is now a hotbed of commercialism, this bestselling pamphlet aims to enable anarchist fans to reconcile themselves to enjoyment of the game beyond the capitalist agenda of its modern-day manifestation.
Passion of the People?: Football in South America — Tony Mason
An analysis of the political role of football in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay that examines its positive and negative uses as an instrument of social control. Published in 1994, Mason's book examines the place of sport within the social fabric of these societies after Brazil’s World Cup win of that year. Passion of the People is an indispensable companion during the confluence of nations of widely varying degrees of wealth and political stability that is the Olympic Games.
Those Damn Yankees: The Secret Life of America’s Greatest Franchise — Dean Chadwin
Dean Chadwin’s investigation into America’s most famous baseball team reveals the discrepancies between the commercial and competitive aspects of the sport and its benign media image. This unflinching investigation into the hidden realities of professional sports is particularly relevant during Olympic season inviting the reader to question what lies beneath the wholesome veneer of the Olympic spectacle.
Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties—Mike Marqusee
Muhammad Ali’s appearance at the Olympics opening ceremony reflected his legendary status in the sporting world. Marqusee’s book highlights Ali’s political role as a radical and stresses his importance as a voice of dissent in the turbulent decade of the 60s. Marqusee assesses Ali’s biography within an international context explaining his appeal to the wider global community as represented in London this summer.
Theatres of Memory: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture— Raphael Samuel
Director Danny Boyle presented his personal stance on a broad sweep of British history in the Olympics opening ceremony to a world audience of billions. Samuel’s imaginative and original argument that history is a living practice, forged and mutated across generations, enables a critical evaluation of the implications of this kind of creative interpretation of history.
Anyone But England: Cricket and the National Malaise — Mike Marqusee
American author Mike Marqusee reassesses the quintessentially English game of cricket. From his unique perspective Marqusee brings fresh insight to recounting its history and dares to probe into some of its controversies such as racism and sexism. As the world focuses on Britain during the Olympics, this book invites analysis of how this national and imperial pastime can illuminate the nation’s relationship with sport.
Critique of Everyday Life: Volume One — Henri Lefebvre
As a social, political and certainly consumerist event for the masses, how do the Olympic Games affect and reflect the ‘everyday life’ of contemporary society? Lefebvre’s seminal critique provides an intellectual framework by which to judge the Olympic phenomenon.
Soccer in Sun and Shadow — Eduardo Galeano
Galeano’s book charts the passionate highs and desperate lows of soccer in this compelling snapshot of the human side of the sport. With anecdotes and accounts from across the world, this memoir of the game is a refreshing and idiosyncratic insight into the intensity of the sporting life.
Peasant-Citizen & Slave: the Foundations of Athenian Democracy — Ellen Meiskins Wood
This radical re-reading of Athenian democracy seeks to and succeeds in fundamentally altering our perceptions of slavery and citizenship in ancient Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic Games.
The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century— Peter Linebaugh
Peter Linebaugh’s bottom-up history of hanging in 18th Century London explores the complex political and economic contexts of criminalization and punishment in society. This history sheds light on the low-tolerance policing of the Olympics, which kicked off with the mass arrest of almost 200 cyclists during the opening ceremony.
Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night — Sukdhev Sandhu
Taking H.V. Morton’s 1926, The Nights of London as his inspiration and companion, Sandhu presents a series of memoirs of London’s nocturnal life as recalled by the ordinary people who inhabit it; from cabbies to cleaners. A world away from the manicured sterility of the Olympic Park, Sandhu’s book offers a rich and personal compendium of a side of the city that most tourists will miss.
Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea — Alberto Toscano
The phrase ‘sports fanatic’ will be used liberally this summer by media commentators. London’s hosting of the event may even turn the usually uninterested into sports fanatics in the name of patriotism but is our understanding of the notion of fanaticism accurate or even fair? Toscano argues that our associations with the word require re-evaluation and stresses the important role that forms of fanaticism have played in political history.
I thought Napoleon said it. But no, it's in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776), book IV, section vii, part 3 (about half way through). Here's what he says:
To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.
We might want to add news-mongers, phone hackers, cops on the take, MPs slurping up the lard at the trough, all the bankers and the other high net worth individuals.
But what was Adam Smith on about?